I Semper Tri’d…

It seems my race reports always show up just before my next race… but that’s just because I tend to write a LOT, and I re-read everything over and over and over and over again. But… here it is, enjoy!

A while back, a friend tossed up a post for a local triathlon: The Semper Tri, on Camp Pendleton… it was just a sprint, a short race compared to the Bass Lake Olympic distance race I recently competed, and the upcoming Silverman race we’re training for. I took a quick look at the course, 500 meter swim, 30K bike ride, and a 5K run, “short”, relatively speaking, and it looked like a nice mid-training race to just see where I was… especially when it came to my performance in the water. Nothing jumped out at me when I was reading about it, the race was quite affordable, and it seemed like a really cool spot for a race, right on the base. So I signed up!

Retrospective lesson number 1: Make sure you do your research.
Retrospective lesson number 2: I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, “nothing new on race day.”

Leading up to the race, training was going well. I was getting stronger in the water, finally working out some of the flaws in my technique (swimming requires lots of it), cycling was going well, and my running was improving after the fiasco with my ankle (might have identified the core cause, but that’s a story for another time), so I wasn’t really concerned about the race, even as I woke up on the day of the race. I had prepped my bike and transition bag the day before, so in the morning it was just getting into my Team Challenge kit, tending to the dogs, loading up the car, and hitting the road for Camp Pendleton. The trip to the doors of the base is around 25-30 minutes, and they told us to factor in another 30 minutes from the gate to the race site. This is likely due to the security in place, they scan your ID, asked why you’re there, take your finger prints, ask you to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, tell you to name all the presidents, and then send you on your way. In reality it was maybe 10-15 minutes as traffic was light at 5:45 in the morning.

The race site was in the ACU-5 compound (Assault Craft Unit 5), which is actually visible from Interstate 5, which runs by the base. But when I say “visible”, I mean “you see a bunch of tall walls and some towers”. We didn’t know EXCATLY where the race was going to be held, but once I swung the left to cross over the 5 and onto the compound, we started to get pretty excited about seeing what was behind the walls. Of course, before we found out we had to go through another checkpoint, but then we were led to a large open area where they were instructing cars on where to park. We also learned what the ACU-5 was all about: gigantic, awesome hovercraft. There were more than a few parked around the compound, and they were awesome. Super awesome.

After ogling the gigantic (super awesome) hovercraft, I went through all the required prerace stuff: turn in the waiver that says I can’t sue if I crash into one of the hovercraft, grab my race packet with my stickers and bib, pick up my t-shirt, and gather up my stuff to schlep down to the transition area. Considering there were some rather imposing looking Marines “guarding” the path down to the transition, Tam decided to hang out at the spectating area… which meant she stood on a cliff surveying the world below her… something she’s only heard me tell stories of. Oh yea, the path down to transition was a one third mile steady decline down to the beach. The best way to describe it is a very large boat ramp. Wasn’t a really steep hill or anything, but it was a hill.

So… about those race details. One thing I didn’t do was pay attention to the particulars of the whole thing, for the swim I just saw 500M and I hallucinated “protected” so I thought “calm water”. Turns out I probably should’ve paid more attention… and looked at a map. The start was a beach start, which meant we stand on the beach and run into the ocean, waves and all. Problem is I’ve never done a beach start into the ocean. I’ve never even SWAM in the ocean, aside from when I was a kid and we’d go body surfing and boogie boarding in the Atlantic. So yea, I was starting to be a little concerned about the whole thing. Still, I was going to at least give it a shot, but I wanted to scout out the water and start area first. So after I got my transition area all setup, I waived to Tam up on high and meandered down to the start area, which was separated from transition by concrete sandbags that I was really hoping we didn’t have to break our ankles on. The water was “calm” for the ocean: waves weren’t too big, tide was out, and the temps were good. At this point I opted to wear my sleeveless wetsuit, I figured the extra range of motion would help with the start.

I managed to track down the other Team Challenge folks doing the race with me, Sally, Lauri, and Steve, and chatted with them about the start, conditions, and course overall. The general consensus was the water wasn’t very rough, the bike was long, but it should be a fun race. Spirits were high, and everyone was good and ready to get things underway.

The Swim

Eventually it was time to start sending the racers. The water still seemed calm for the ocean, but the announcer was beginning to announce that racers could check out of the triathlon and into the duathlon if they weren’t sure about the surf, so maybe it wasn’t as calm as I thought. The first couple of waves went into the… um… waves, and we were starting to be able to see the direction of the current. I figured I should probably pay attention to how people dealt with the waves so I could mimic it as best I could. Again, I had no practice, none, zilch, so my hope was to not burn myself out getting past the break, and just kinda cruise through the swim.

And then my wave started. We gathered in the start area, listened for the countdown, and we were off. There’s usually a group of people who figure they can win the race if they do a dead sprint into the water, but most people just jogged calmly into the ocean. I followed suit and started wading out into the water, careful to do the stingray shuffle since I’m still super paranoid about catching a bone spike to the top of the foot. I got to a point where the water was deep enough to swim, so in I went… Tarzan style. I wanted to be able to see the waves, so it took me a little longer to dip my head down. But I did, and I started swimming… or at least trying.

To say I was battered would be an understatement. I tried to mimic what I saw other racers do, and failed miserably. Every time I went under a wave, it would completely screw up my balance in the water, making it difficult to keep my arms moving properly. When I looked up to sight, I’d get blasted in the face by a crashing wave. Each time I put my head down, I was almost kicked. I’m pretty sure I was getting first hand experience of what it’s like to be in a front loading washing machine, and if I’m honest I wasn’t having a particularly good time. With every wave throwing me around, my swimming rhythm got disrupted more and more and I found myself swimming much harder than I should’ve been. I felt like I was going backwards as far as I was moving forward, and I was running out of energy very quickly. I sighted once more, only to see I had a long way to go before I was past the break, and that was it. I was done, my arms were spent, I was struggling to catch my breath, I was disoriented… I was defeated. I rolled over on my back, and the life guard who was next to me asked if I was ok.

“I’m spent, I’m done.”

He flagged down a rescue boat who helped me and my noodle arms out of the water. They asked me if I was ok with the expected rescue worker concern in their voices, I told them I was fine, just had never done an ocean start before and got beat. We took off back to shore where they dropped me off and offered some encouragement (“you’ll get it next year”), and then they took off back into the water.

While I was in the boat, all I could think of was how disappointed I was that I couldn’t finish… it sucked. But then it hit me: the Duathlon started AFTER the tri, so I might still be able to switch. After telling about 16 more people I was fine, I managed to talk to the Race director, who told me it was no problem to switch. She told a guy with a clipboard to jot down that I switched to the duathlon, and then directed me to the announcer, who took down my name and bib number so they could let timing know. I was beyond relieved, I couldn’t finish the swim, but I could still race, so I headed back to transition, got out of my wetsuit and into my running shoes, re-racked my bike in the duathlon area, and got ready for the run. After I got all setup, I looked to see where Tam was, but I didn’t have any luck finding her. Figured she was just sitting somewhere I couldn’t see, so I wandered over to the start area.

The Run

The run was on the beach… I guess they wanted to make sure everyone got a taste of the whole storming the beach vibe to start the race. I’ll be honest, the scene from Baywatch flashed in my mind for all of a half a second, so I’m kinda sad there was no one there taking slow motion footage. Anyway, with my ankle running in the sand was a bit of a concern, but thankfully the route was close enough to the water so the sand was nicely packed down. I picked my way through the crowd to find a good starting point, and then realized I had to pee. Did a quick time check, ran to the porta-johns on the other side of transition, and then slow jogged back, only to hear the announcer count down to one right when I got close to the group. Just in time!

Sometimes you need to adjust your shades during the run...

Sometimes you need to adjust your shades during the run…

Duathlons follow a run – bike – run format, and the first run is usually setup to take roughly the same amount of time as the swim. This means it’s usually quite short, and in my case it was 1.41 miles from the start to the transition mats, or a little over the 2K they said it would be. Seems “a little over” would be the theme of the day. Considering how well packed the sand was, concerns about my ankle quickly melted away and I spent most of the run just admiring the view, and listening to the ocean and pounding feet instead of actually thinking about my pace. Was a nice way to start the day… well, after the way it already started. The way back was more of the same, but the sand was a little softer, so I had to be careful not to tweak anything.

Once we got past the start point, we had to swing a quick left to follow the route around the concrete ankle breakers over to transition. This sand was very soft and more… umm… sand-y. I could feel it getting into my shoes, which of course meant I started wondering if the added weight would slow me down later… Sand filled shoes aside, I crossed the mats into transition, found my bike, had a brain fart considering I was expecting to take off a wetsuit I wasn’t wearing, changed my shoes, grabbed my bike and helmet, and strolled to the mount line. Yes, strolled, I’m not really one to run in awkward bike shoes.

Total time: 12:46, my watch said my pace was around 9:02 a mile, which considering all the ankle problems I’ve had lately, isn’t too shabby.

The Bike

The gradual decline down to the beach of course meant that the very first pedal stroke on the bike was pushing it up a hill. This wasn’t anything like the first hill at Bass Lake, but still, a lot of people struggled with it. I, being the “tall, skinny mother&*@#er” that I am, flew up the hill with relative ease. Oh, and at the top of the hill I spotted a very surprised Tam, “What The F!” I believe is what she said, only with more profanity. She saw me get pulled out of the water and thought I was done for the day, so she was coming down to see how I was doing… you wouldn’t know it from her initial reaction, but she was very relieved to see me on my bike racing.

The first little bit of the bike course followed a path of barriers and cones through the compound, and it was actually a pretty fun little stretch of road. There were imposing Marine volunteers all over warning us of the corners, and I’m sure I made a few of them rather nervous with how fast I took some of the turns. Once we were clear of the compound, we had to squeeze past a speed bump by the gate, cross a bridge, and then swing a left to go deeper into Camp Pendleton.

Offseason training included working on my finger gun game.

Offseason training included working on my finger gun game.

My legs were feeling good, and the course was mostly flat, so I was able to keep up a pretty good pace without exerting a lot of energy. I was even able to drop a few guys on fancy bikes who were trying to hang on behind me. There was a part where I actually had to knife between a number of athletes because they didn’t seem to have any concept of the “keep right” thing. I just shouted to let them know where I was going, and I was able to squeeze by without a problem.

Eventually the road hit a T and they had us swing a right out for a few miles before we swung a U-turn around a little park. I couldn’t tell if it was wind, or a false flat (I would find out later it was the latter), but it was a little harder to keep my speed up. I didn’t want to push it, so I just let my legs dictate my speed and kept rolling. Unfortunately, there was a rider who was involved in a crash who was sitting in the middle of the road. I’m not entirely sure what happened, he went down after a makeshift chicane around a concrete barrier, and he was quite bloodied, but he was sitting up and aware, so that was good… still, I felt bad for the guy.

On the way back, I picked up a guy on a road bike, who I’m pretty sure was drafting me from time to time. He’d pass me, I’d stay out of his draft, then pass him, and then he’d pass me again. Few races ago, I had someone suck my wheel almost the entire course and then pass me with about a mile left to go… that pissed me off. This guy actually started joking about us passing each other, so I didn’t immediately target him as someone to run down after transition. He even cracked a Jens Voigt “Shut Up Legs!” joke on one of the hills!

After what seemed like a much further distance than advertised, we were back onto the compound and I was once again flying through the turns. Coasted down the hill toward transition, dismounted, and started strolling back to my bike… and of course the guy I was playing leapfrog with ran past me toward his transition area, so I shouted “just had to get one last past in huh?” to him. I got to my spot, racked my bike, changed my shoes, grabbed my race belt and visor, and I was off.

Total time: 57:05. The course was “30K”, but it ended up clocking in at 19.39 miles, so my time was good for 20.5mph average. I was ok with the time, probably could’ve gone a little faster, but I prefer not to sprint when accelerating out of hills, instead I just gradually spin up so I don’t burn out my legs, and I wanted to make sure I was good for the run.

The Run… again

This time we weren’t running on the beach… we were running up that hill. While the hill was no biggie to ride up, it did kinda suck to RUN up. I saw one guy go sprinting past me, I don’t know if he realized he had to run another 3 miles after he got to the top of the hill, but he was getting to the top first come hell or high water… of course I ended up passing him a little later in the race. Not really sure what his game plan was there, but whatever.

At the top of the hill, you make a sharp left, and then another left past the checking/expo area, and then past one of the gigantic hovercraft… which was really effing cool. I stopped looking where I was going and ogled it for a while, eventually noticing there were people walking around on it. Turns out the hovercraft was the finishing chute! I was super stoked to get to the finish now, so I upped the pace a smidge.

My biggest concern coming into this race was how my ankle would feel. I had zero issues during the first run, and my good luck continued during the 5k: no pain, no aches, nothing. So I was free to find a comfortable pace, and just run… It was nice to finally be able to run and not worry about pain.

The highlight of the run was probably the guy who was trying to “inspire” a younger runner. She passed me at one point and he wasn’t far behind her, shouting words of encouragement. “You got this, you can catch her! Don’t let her get away! Just go a little faster! See how she’s running (referring to another lady running past), she’s just gliding, run like that!” Despite his endless “encouragement”, she burned out and began to visibly struggle, eventually responding to him with “I can’t, Mr. Whateverhisnamewas!” as her pace dropped. I ended up passing her, and could hear them behind me for a while before he eventually broke off and jogged ahead of me. She’s a youngin’ though, so she’ll get faster.

The run zigzagged a little through the compound before reaching the turnaround point that was

Had to blow Tam a kiss when I saw her.

Had to blow Tam a kiss when I saw her.

in sight of the compound exit. From there, you zigzagged some more, through a parking lot, and behind some hangers before finally backtracking all the way toward the finish. The home stretch before the finish was a rather long, straight, flat stretch where you could easily get up a nice head of steam for a sprint finish. I saw Tam off to the side taking pictures, so ran a little closer and blew her a kiss before picking up the pace a little bit more. She took off jogging so she could beat me to the finish for a picture, but considering the speed I was going, she basically had to run at a dead sprint to get there first, which she of course let me know as she was running.

And then it was over. I crossed the finish line, and then walked up a rather steep ramp to get up onto the hovercraft. In retrospect, having a steep ingress and egress immediately after a finish was a bit cruel, tired legs and steep inclines don’t mix… I grabbed my medal, a bottle of water, and then wandered toward the back of the craft to find Tam. Posed for a few pics, got photobombed by the coach I mentioned earlier, and then we were off to the finish to see our friends in.

Total Time: 26:28, good for a pace of 8:40min/mi. Don’t believe it’s my fastest run split off the bike, but I’ll happily take it. I know I can go faster if I really push, but I don’t want to be one of those people who look like they’re about to die when they finish.

The Aftermath

I was absolutely unprepared for the ocean start, and I knew it. I also knew that there was a chance I’d DNF if I couldn’t get past the break, but I wanted to at least give it a shot. I was honestly lucky that they were willing to switch people from the tri to the duathlon because the surf was what it was. I’m not sure if I’m going to give this race another go next year… as it stands, I have little to no urge to do a race with an ocean start again. Many of the tris in the area are in the bay so there’s no break to fight with on your way into the water, so being able to negotiate waves isn’t a required skill, but it wouldn’t hurt to develop it. Something to add to the list I guess…

Other than that, the race was a lot of fun. The beach run was a cool way to start, sand wasn’t too soft, and the view was nice. The bike course was relatively flat, and fun… certainly not as entertaining as Bass Lake, but it’s nice to be able to just tuck and go from time to time, and the start/finishing areas had some nice technical parts. The 5k was a nice way to finish, a cool little tour around the compound, with a very, very cool finish. While I’m not sure if I’d do the tri again, I’d most likely do the duathlon again.

At the end of the day, my finishing time of 1:39:29 was good for a solid 3rd place in my age group… out of 4, ha! In total, I was 28th overall out of 161, which I’m pretty happy with. The goal wasn’t to go out and crush the course, more just gauge my fitness, and I did just that. 🙂

I Semper Tri’d, but I’ve always been a dog person, so maybe the Devil Dog Duathlon was calling me from the start.

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